With increased costs and its gentleman driver putting his plans on hold, one of GRAND-AM’s most successful teams is in a race against the clock to be on the grid for next year.
Sportscar365 has learned that AIM Autosport, which had nearly secured its 2014 program just a few weeks ago, is now on the hunt for new drivers and funding for its championship-winning Ferrari GT Daytona effort.
The Toronto-based squad, which won the 2012 Rolex Sports Car Series championship with Jeff Segal and Emil Assentato, was set to return next year, but plans changed late last month when Assentato stepped down from his racing commitments, according to team co-owner Ian Willis.
“The nature of the beast is that we went into this year knowing that it was going to be about a 25 percent increase in budget,” Willis told Sportscar365. “We knew we were going to be faced with trying to find that shortfall or cut some races later in the year.
“The cash flow of this series is heavily front-loaded with a 24-hour [race] and 12-hour [race] to kick off the season. Fifty percent of the operating budget is spent by the time you get to the end of March.
“That’s a challenge for any program. Unfortunately, the funding that was required to make this program work wasn’t available to meet those requirements.”
With lead driver Jeff Segal, who was set to share the single-car AIM entry with Assentato, having already moved to Level 5 Motorsports, Willis is in a unique situation of having to fill both seats of the team’s Prancing Horse and is beginning to talk to interested parties.
“A full season program, at this late date… the likelihood of that happening is slim to none unless somebody has a full-season program they can’t fulfill elsewhere,” he said.
While the team had already lodged a full-season entry for GTD, Willis said he’s been in communication with IMSA regarding their situation but is hopeful to find the necessary budget required for a continued sports car presence, potentially even in a different series.
“It really boils down to what opportunities we are able to unearth,” he said. “We certainly believe in what the TUDOR Series is and want to be involved in it, if not next year, but in the future. We want to explore any and all opportunities for that series.
“But having said that, the Pirelli World Challenge is more attainable financially, so we’re definitely also looking at that series as an option for us.”
AIM has been one of the stalwarts of GRAND-AM, having entered Daytona Prototype competition in 2005 before spearheading Ferrari’s return to the GT category in 2012, which saw the Canadian team earn three class victories en route to the drivers, teams and manufacturers’ titles.
They expanded to a two-car operation in 2012, fielding the No. 61 Ferrari, in association with Remo Ferri, which resulted in victory at Indianapolis for Segal and co-driver Max Papis.
“One of our strengths as a race team is that we’ve got a great group of people which we’ve built up over the years,” Willis said. “We have a great deal of loyalty with the people we have, which makes a strong race team. We want to keep that together, first and foremost.”
Willis said a program would have to come together in the next two weeks in order to make the Roar Before the Rolex 24.